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B.A. Nilsson

Simply Satisfying
By B.A. Nilsson

47 Railroad St., Great Barrington, Mass., 413-528-7767.

Serving Mon-Thu 5-10, Fri-Sat 5-11, Sun 5:30-10; brunch Sun 11-3.
AE, MC, V.

Food: ***½
Service: Efficient
Ambience: Clublike

Railroad Avenue takes a turn off of Great Barrington’s delightfully funky Main Street and leads you to an area that’s even hipper. It’s obvious because of the variety of restaurants. Pearl’s opened last May in a building at the apex of the avenue’s curve and adds another fine-dining outpost, calling itself an American steakhouse, and thus possibly leading you to expect something it’s not. Something it’s happily not.

Actually, others who are more category-conscious apply the steakhouse term, which puts me in mind of that old “When I see you go up to the salad bar I’ll fire your steak” kind of place. Pearl’s adds the simple descriptor “steaks, chops, fish & game” to its dignified logo, and that’s nearer the mark.

“Straightforward preparation of the freshest ingredients we can obtain” is general manager Tim Buchanan’s description of the philosophy. “We present food in a simple, satisfying way, and nobody leaves hungry.”

It’s not as simple as he makes it out to be. Take the duck. I’m a sucker for that fatty fowl, first met a quarter-century ago under a thick coating of too-sweet orange sauce; I’ve grown to like it more and more as other preparations have revealed and enhanced the duck’s worthy flavor. Grilled duck breast seemed to be about as good as it could get, but now I’m a convert to the Pearl’s approach: pan-seared and spit-roasted. Most of the fat is gone, although what remains of the skin still packs a crunch.

This was one of the dinner specials when we visited on a recent Sunday, a pleasant but cold evening that made the warm, deep-red interior feel all the more inviting. The semicircular bar is in its own room with an array of comfortable chairs if you’re not inclined to perch on a stool; across a hallway are the two dining rooms, separated by a brick wall with two open archways and an amusingly detailed elephant portrait.

Designer Frank Macioge has lavished the kind of attention on this place usually reserved for the priciest, most upscale eateries; he’s also responsible for the look of Bistro Zinc in nearby Lenox, and Zinc shares a trio of owners with Pearl’s. But they’ve been created as differing entities, and I’m inclined to find Pearl’s the more comfortable of the two.

Executive chef Rob Ferris (formerly of Zinc) offers a one-page menu that gets down to business right away: a handful of appetizers, priced from $7 to $12, with market-based fluctuations in the shellfish; two soups, a few salads. Entrées include a listing of steaks (beef, veal and lamb, $18-$30, the last for a 24-ounce porterhouse), fish ($16-$27) and game ($14-$27), with a couple of specialties (meat loaf, veggie plate) thrown in. And specials: fish and chips Monday, lamb Tuesday. . . . You get the idea.

The wine list offers plenty by the glass, and a well-chosen bottle assortment; we chose an Iron Horse Sauvignon Blanc ($31) to take us through the meal.

Usually, when I order something like tuna tartare ($10), I can count on having it all to myself. Our friends, Bob and Janet, have more adventurous palates than my wife, Susan, so I was obliged to share. And they, too, enjoyed the mix of raw tuna with sesame oil and a touch of hot pepper. It’s served with homemade potato chips, which you’ll also find at the bar—which partly may explain their saltiness. We encountered a surfeit of salt in other items, though, so it may be a matter of the chef’s preference. Creamed spinach ($6), for instance: It’s part of a list of à la carte side dishes meant to serve the table, but its saltiness proved too daunting.

Clam chowder ($6), which my wife and daughter shared, relied instead on good stock and the right amount of bacon as flavor enhancers. It was the classic creamy version with added smokiness, which complemented the seafood excellently.

Murmur “mussels” to my daughter and she goes wild; although she hardly made a dent in the large appetizer portion ($9), an unsurprising presentation that featured plump, well-cleaned mussels, she did polish the leftovers off the following day. I helped.

Susan looked no further than Southern fried chicken ($14), a dish she discourages me from making at home (“too much fat!”) but which she has no trouble tearing into elsewhere. No fried okra was available that night, unfortunately—she loves that slimy veg—but both the chicken and the accompanying mashed potatoes were textbook definitions of how to do these dishes.

Bob’s order of duck ($19) was a special version of a usual menu item; the spit-roasting is a new idea. Janet ordered rainbow trout ($18), served whole but with a stuffing of shrimp and crab that actually seemed to add little to the flavor, and, as a mousseline, was hard to distinguish from the trout itself. Sides of calamari and seaweed salad were shrewdly chosen.

I was steered from a wild boar rack to another daily special: a mixed grill ($22) that included a boar chop (surprisingly tough) with a slice of meat loaf and two venison sausages. That meat loaf was definitely not in the repertory of your mom or mine, with an earthy flavor and bacon galore. And the venison sausage was another triumph, again boasting a deep, rich flavor.

Coffee and tea were served promptly, and the homemade desserts included a too-filling pumpkin praline tart and a deliciously understated coconut cream pie, airy and sweet and served in its own macaroon shell.

Service was very good, and it’s clear that Pearl’s has already made a good place for itself in a community that enjoys and supports the presence of good restaurants.

Dinner for four, with tax and tip, wine and dessert, was $201.

Metroland restaurant reviews are based on one unannounced visit; your experience may differ.

Food Rating Key: ***** An exciting, fulfilling experience; the food and service are everything they set out to be. Brillat-Savarin would be proud. **** Way up there with really good food, definitely worth your dining dollar. Julia Child would be proud. *** Average, with hints of excitement. Your mother would be pleased. ** A dining-out bogey; food probably isn’t the first priority. Colonel Sanders would be disappointed. * K-rations posing as comestibles. Your dog would be disgusted.

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